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People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.  © 2021 AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

(Washington, DC) – United States President Donald Trump and his supporters in Congress should immediately acknowledge Joe Biden’s win in the November presidential election and cease their attack on US democratic processes, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Trump administration should take all appropriate action to end further forcible interference with the democratic process by their supporters, hundreds of whom stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, following Trump’s address to a rally near the White House. Congress should immediately certify the election results.

“The mob that occupied the US Capitol tried to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “This is the culmination of a reckless campaign by the president and his enablers to undermine democratic processes and the rule of law since his electoral defeat. The government needs to hold them to account.”

On January 6, members of Congress gathered for the official certification of electoral votes in the US presidential election, which Biden won by 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. Members of Congress, journalists, and others were forced to flee as rioters smashed windows and broke into the House and Senate chambers. US Capitol Police shot and killed one woman, according to media reports.

The mob had just come from a “Save America” rally promoted by Trump and his supporters, including the far-right Proud Boys group. Speaking to the crowd, Trump repeated debunked conspiracy theories, said he would “never concede” that he lost the election, and urged the crowd to walk to the Capitol to give Republicans “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

“The events at the Capitol should not distract from the fact that a record number of US citizens peacefully turned out to choose their representatives,” Austin-Hillery said. “All officials, and members of Congress in particular, should be focused on upholding the will of the people and swiftly confirming the result.”

Around two hours after the mob occupied the Capitol, Trump issued a video statement asking his supporters to peacefully go home. But rather than condemn their anti-democratic actions, he repeated falsehoods about the election, adding, “We love you, you’re very special.”

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube removed the video and other content posted by the president due to the risk of inciting violence or for violating their policies against alleging widespread electoral fraud. In unprecedented moves, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter temporarily blocked President Trump from posting to his accounts citing repeated violations of their policies and the ongoing violence in Washington, D.C.

Leading Republican Trump supporters, including Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and more than 100 members of the House of Representatives, should immediately recognize that Biden won the election fairly and drop objections to the certification of electoral votes.

“Republicans legislators are enabling Trump’s assault on democracy by standing against the core democratic principle that the people choose their leaders,” Austin-Hillery said. “The occupation of the Capitol should make clear just how harmful this anti-democratic political posturing has been.” 

The incoming attorney general should launch a prompt and impartial investigation into efforts to subvert the democratic process, Human Rights Watch said. The investigation should include Trump’s phone call on January 2 urging Georgia’s secretary of state to overturn the state’s election results.

Congress should also investigate the law enforcement preparation for and response to the riot, Human Rights Watch said. Law enforcement responded to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC, last summer with excessive force, dispersing the crowd with teargas and batons and intimidating demonstrators with dangerously low-flying helicopters. The pro-Trump mob, while forcing their way into the Capitol to stop not just the functioning of the US legislature but the counting of electoral votes to formalize the presidential election, appeared to meet relatively little resistance from law enforcement.

International human rights standards require that law enforcement protect the right of demonstrators to peacefully assemble regardless of their political views, and not engage in excessive use of force. At the same time, law enforcement needs to respond to violent acts in a proportionate manner that minimizes the use of force.

“Given the stark contrast with how law enforcement responded to Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Congress and the incoming attorney general should commission independent investigations into the policing of this event and last summer’s racial justice protests,” Austin-Hillery said.

Foreign leaders, many of whom have expressed outrage at the assault on democracy in Washington, DC, should urge all US political leaders, particularly Republicans, to support the will of the people as expressed in the duly certified election results.

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